“Each whisky is different so an individual’s experience of the spirit can trigger their curiosity and exploration and discovery can thrive.” – Elizabeth Bryan
Elizabeth Bryan is the liquor buyer for World Duty Free UK, the major travel retail company you’ll find in airports from Heathrow to Aberdeen.
In this Whisky Women interview she talks about getting into whisky, what makes her passionate about it and how her perceptions about the drink have changed since taking on the role.
How did you first get into whisky?
By accepting the job, I began my ‘proper’ experience with the spirit. I’ve been working with and exploring the fascinating qualities of whisky since 2012 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
When you were first learning about it, what was one that really hooked you in?
It’s the variety that’s so alluring. Each whisky is different so an individual’s experience of the spirit can trigger their curiosity and exploration and discovery can thrive. What’s also unique about my position working with whisky in travel retail is the additional range and quality of our exclusive whiskies that can’t be found on the high street and that are only available at the airport, or are exclusive to just our World Duty Free or World of Whiskies stores.
You’ve come from a buying background – were you surprised to ‘get into’ whisky?
From a buying perspective no, it hasn’t surprised me. The aspirational values of a passenger buying premium whisky and a passenger buying luxury designer brands (my previous role) are the same. From a personal perspective – yes it has – because whisky is now a drink of choice whereas before I was strictly a gin and beer girl.
Before you started talking about whisky, what were your perceptions of it?
Being from North Carolina I was mostly exposed to bourbons, which were popular with my age group back home. Single malt was reserved for the older generation after dinner.
How have your perceptions about the spirit changed since?
I now see all whiskies as an accessible drink that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways – whether that’s neat or even in spiced or fruity cocktails, which are delicious too. I’m also more aware of how drinkable it is during different occasions – as Friday night drinks or to wind down with after dinner!
What do you love most about what you do?
I get the opportunity to play a key role in creating a unique and inspirational shopping experience for an international customer base. We use exciting in-store events, tasting bars and brand installations to really engage customer interest and it’s very satisfying to see the customer response. I have to think about brand choice, personal purchase versus gifting, as well as exploring cultural buying habits, promotional offers and exclusive whiskies. The options and dynamics are endless!
Do you think more women could or should be involved in the world of whisky?
Yes, absolutely! Experiment with a tasting, visit a distillery or sample malt in a fresh and vibrant cocktail – you’ll be surprised at how versatile whisky is and that there’s a whisky to suit even the most discerning tastes.
What is the biggest challenge you face when it comes to whisky?
As one of the leading retailers of whisky, we get many opportunities participate in different whisky brand activations and exclusive product launches. It’s such a dynamic and evolving industry and each day we work hard to stay on top of the trends and to refresh and maintain the quality of our range.
Why would you recommend someone to embark on a career in whisky?
From my experience, it’s an industry that’s very welcoming because the community of our brand partners and whisky experts want you to enjoy, appreciate and fall in love with the spirit so that you can admire it just as much as they do. Their aim is to share their knowledge to enhance your understanding, rather than being intimidated by its complexities. It’s a truly passionate community that makes for a diverse and exciting profession.
What is one of your favourite memories involving whisky?
Distillery visits are my favourite! They are a fantastic way to bring the spirit to life while learning about each whisky from inception through to consumption. A few hours in a distillery will change your whisky drinking experience forever.